Having goals is a must as you progress through HPDE.
The very nature of HPDE, the "education" part, implies continuous improvement. As a student you should be aware of where you are in your development. In order to do this you need to track your goals from one track day to the next.
You should have goals for each event, each day of the event and each session within the day. The smaller goals (e.g., session goals) should be subordinate to the overall goals (e.g. event goals). The goals should be realistically achievable in the available time - for example, you can improve your lap time by 2 seconds within a session but improving your lap time by 10 seconds within one session is extremely unlikely to happen.
You may not have any goals in your first track event, and this is alright. The organization and/or the instructor will set the goals for you - usually they involve staying on track, learning basic track skills such as "the line", not damaging your car and having a good time. As you do more track events you should start to develop your own goals. When you go to a new track, is your goal to simply learn the track or beat a specific time? When you do your 5th or 10th event at your home track, what are you hoping to get out of it?
Regardless of whether you have an instructor, you should have your own goals for each event. If you have an instructor you should tell them what your goals are. Most instructors will be happy to help you achieve them. At the same time, they might point out that you can work on other things which will benefit you more than whatever it was you originally planned.
Goals should be:
- "I want to go faster."
- "I want to go faster in turn 1."
The first goal is not very specific. If you are a solo driver and you set that goal for yourself, you may try to improve in all corners at the same time, spreading your attention to the point where you are not making much headway in any of them. If you have an instructor and you give them this first goal, don't be surprised if they have you work on fixing your seating position!
The second goal is much more specific. You can focus on one turn for a session or a day, and this focus will pay off in results. You also will know what to measure, and your measurements will be more closely related to your goals - if you were to look at overall lap time, corners that you were not working on may have been where you gained time, but if you look at time through turn 1, that directly tells you how well you are doing in that particular turn.
Be careful not to make your goals too specific to the point of being wrong. For example, suppose you want to lap Summit Point Main faster and you think you are slow through turn 4. You set your goal to take turn 4 faster. However, turn 4 is followed by turn 5 which can be more influential on lap time. If you lose sight of your bigger goal of lapping the entire course quicker and work on turn 4 to the detriment of turn 5, this can be a bad thing in the long run.
- "I want to drive at the limit."
- "I want to trailbrake to keep the car on the edge of friction circle during corner entry."
The first goal is not very actionable. There is no magic trick to driving at the limit. You need to have the skills and be able to execute consistently, and have patience not to overdrive. While drivers get closer to the limit as they become more experienced, if this is your only goal you won't be able to make much headway.
The second goal focuses on a particular skill that will help you achieve the first goal.
How do you go from the first type of goal to the second type? You turn the first goal into an actionable question:
- "What skills do I need to drive closer to the limit?"
You can research this question on your own between track events, ask your in-car instructor if you have one, or ask the classroom instructor. If you don't have mandatory classroom, ask the classroom instructor anyway or talk to the chief instructor at the event.
Compare the following two goals for a track day:
- "I lap this circuit in 2:20, but the lap record is 2:09. I want to beat the lap record."
- "I lap this circuit in 2:20, but the lap record is 2:18. I make more power than the car that set the lap record. I want to beat the lap record."
The first goal is not very realistic. Unless your 2:20 time was set in rain and the 2:09 record was set in dry conditions, you are unlikely to reduce your lap time by 11 seconds in one day. Attempting to shaving two seconds off your lap time is not only more realistic than 11, knowing that you have a faster car goes a long way toward making the case that you can actually run the time you want to run.
Having unrealistic goals means you will either not achieve them, or worse, get in trouble trying.
On the other hand, human psychology is such that we stop pushing once we achieve our goals. For example, suppose your goal is to lap the track in 2:18. That is a fast time for your car, and requires driving at close to 10/10. You hit a 2:18.5... and then your brain relaxes as it congratulates itself on the achievement. You have a single lap in 2:18 but you cannot get any more laps that are equally quick.
If your goal is to run 2:18 laps consistently, you would work on different things. Instead of trying to set a single flying lap, exploiting instantaneous opportunities to gain time, you will forego those unless you can hit them consistently. You will probably be slower for most of the weekend, but when you get into 2:18 you will be able to stay at that level.
Coming up with ambitious yet realistic goals is probably the hardest aspect of goal setting, especially if you are given a limited amount of time to reach them (say, a single day on a track you have never driven before).
You want to set higher goals as you do more and more track days. Unless, of course, you start driving a slower car. Generally speaking, running the same lap times year over year means you are not improving. Keep a driver log so that you know what your goals, and achievements, were in the past, so that you know if you hit a plateau.